Take a deep breath
focus on one thing,
a single word,
a single phrase,
the most basic mantras of meditation and mindfulness,
now take a deep breath and hold it,
hold it just a second longer,
one second longer,
and now release.
You have now achieved mindfulness of the body and spirit,
Dr. Ellen J. Langer, however, published a paper on mindfulness that deviates slightly from the basics of zen and meditation.
By slightly, of course, I mean almost entirely, but for good reason. She posits that to be truly effective in the classroom as educators, we must have our students achieve mindfulness. She isn’t suggesting however, that we all get on top of our desks and hum in unison, unless you’re teaching a vibrations engineering class like I do.
“If we all hum at the the building’s resonant frequency, we can get the university safety inspector to pay us a visit”
What she, along with Dr. Wesch and Sir Ken Robison are suggesting is that we must throw out some of the old ‘sage on the stage’ and ‘blank stares in chairs’ teaching manuals and start to encourage a more interactive and customizable lesson plan.
“I’m haven’t understood anything since the syllabus and at this point I’m too afraid to ask”
The experts discussed how much more engaged and successful a student can be when they stop taking truths as gospel, when they are allowed to grapple with and own learned knowledge, when they start melding and molding their ideas around what they learned, when they are allowed to go back and forth between different concepts instead of focusing on one idea at a time, and when they get instant feedback on their individual conclusions, either from the instructor, from teaching assistants, or from their peers.
Students wrestling with ideas, together
But as an educator in a so-called ‘hard-science’, I still need to get my subject matter across before the end of the semester while, both myself and my students are being held to standards by the university. What am I to do? How am I to embrace the diversity of my student body while accepting the conformity of the curriculum? How do I allow my students to express themselves and engage with me and each other, while still transmitting the entirety of each lesson? How do I allow them the time to ponder ideas and gain an individual ownership of them while staying on schedule?
The answer may lie in the discussion we had last week centered around networked learning. Having in-class lessons and discussions that continue online after the students have had time to ponder and perhaps discuss with each other later can be a solution. In addition to that, having interact with content online that is connected to the classroom discussions can be a way to individualize a student’s learning and supplement the curriculum without cutting into valuable classroom time. Lastly, having assignments that include students generating original content and discussions that occur ‘after-hours’ exists as a way for the students to interact and express themselves, thereby creating a connection to the classroom material and achieving mindfulness remotely.
“The first hour of enlightenment is free, then it’s $5 per minute of mindfulness after that”
Because, although we aren’t reaching nirvana per se in the classrooms, networked learning techniques may be the key to creating mindfully learning students who can understand subject matter while still expressing themselves and having a sense of individual ownership of their ideas.